A mailer from the Republican Party of Wisconsin is confusing many voters who miss instructions about voters needing to send in a photo ID to request an absentee ballot. Rob Mentzer / WPR
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Wisconsin election officials are cautioning voters in the 7th Congressional District to think twice before relying on pre-filled forms sent to their homes to request absentee ballots.

The prepaid postcards — which come from both Republican and progressive organizations — often lack details on how to meet the requirement to present a photo ID to get an absentee ballot, said Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission. 

Missing that step can mean missing the May 12 election, he said.

A mailer from the Republican Party of Wisconsin is confusing many voters who miss instructions about voters needing to send in a photo ID to request an absentee ballot. Rob Mentzer / WPR

In a webinar with Wisconsin municipal clerks last week, Elections Commission Assistant Administrator Richard Rydecki said the agency had received a lot of complaints about these mailings. 

“So you’re not going to honor any requests, no matter who they come from, unless the photo ID is provided, or you already have the photo ID on file, or they’re folks who don’t need to provide photo ID because they’re either a military or permanent overseas voter or they have indicated they’re indefinitely confined,” Rydecki told the clerks.

Wausau City Clerk Leslie Kremer said she has received about 200 postcards in the last week mailed by the Republican Party of Wisconsin. Except for a handful, they did not include a copy of the voter’s photo ID — a requirement in Wisconsin for most absentee ballot requests. 

That means it is up to clerks to contact voters who dropped the card in the mail without attaching a copy of a driver’s license or other valid ID. Kremer said her office is calling people who included a phone number, and sending letters to those who included only a mailing address on the postcard.

The deadline for requesting absentee ballots in the special election is Thursday — a fact that is advertised prominently on the GOP mailer. If voters wait until the deadline to submit their request — but neglect to include a photo ID — there likely will not be time for clerks to explain the requirement.

At an April 30 webinar with 7th District clerks, elections officials responded to a question about a similar postcard sent out by the Voter Participation Center, which focuses on encouraging voting among young people, people of color and unmarried women.

Instructions for requesting an absentee ballot include the photo ID requirement on this mailer from the Republican Party of Wisconsin. But the postcard does not include a mechanism for submitting the required identification. Rob Mentzer / WPR

“We have heard a lot of complaints about this mailer, and we understand that it’s confusing for folks and it’s not doing a great job highlighting the photo ID requirement,” Rydecki said. “We did have a chance to review this before it went out, and we explicitly told them that they needed to make the photo ID requirement more prominent. I’m not sure how well they incorporated our suggestions.”

Voters can visit myvote.wi.gov to request an absentee ballot online. If in doubt about how to vote absentee, Magney said, voters should contact the clerk of their local municipality.

This story comes from a partnership of Wisconsin Watch and WPR. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (wisconsinwatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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Rob Mentzer is Wisconsin Public Radio's rural communities reporter, based in Wausau, Wis.

Dee J. Hall, a co-founder of Wisconsin Watch, joined the staff as managing editor in June 2015. She is responsible for daily news operations. She worked at the Wisconsin State Journal for 24 years as an editor and reporter focusing on projects and investigations.

A 1982 graduate of Indiana University’s journalism school, Hall served reporting internships at the weekly Lake County Star in Crown Point, Ind., The Gary (Ind.) Post-Tribune, The Louisville (Ky.) Times and The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. Prior to returning to her hometown of Madison in 1990, she was a reporter for eight years at The Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix, where she covered city government, schools and the environment. During her 35-year journalism career, Hall has won more than three dozen local, state and national awards for her work, including the 2001 State Journal investigation that uncovered a $4 million-a-year secret campaign machine operated by Wisconsin’s top legislative leaders.